Monday, June 30, 2008

Euro 2008 -- no I didn't forget about it

In fact, I think I watched practically every match.

But I didn't devote any time to this event because, well, everyone else already was. And they probably had more insightful things to say. I do want to congratulate Spain though, on a romp well done. No other team stood a chance against them; yet I don't think anyone who picked them stuck with them 100%, or even chose them in the first place (I know I didn't). Is it possible to be described as a "least-surprising surprise"? Because if so, they're it.

What I took away most from this years competition (my first as a footy fan), and Norman Hubbard wrote a great piece about this over at soccernet, was the passing of the old guard. Generation X has given way to Generation-Y, the MTV Generation, or whatever the hell my age group is called. France, Italy, and Sweden all fielded geriatric squads, and all had extremely disappointing performances. Spain, Russia, and Turkey were either led by youth or had a youthful endeavor and jubilance about them that saw to their place in the final four. It may be callous to say it, but bring on the youngin's!

Also, and somewhat connected, attacking football reigned supreme and I'm more than happy about it. Greece's anti-football that won them the trophy in 2004 thankfully failed them this time round. Had France not totally crapped the bed, Greece's poor performance -- who scored just one goal, in the last game against Spain -- would have ranked them last in the competition. And everyone can agree on it. Italy attempted to do the same against Spain, and, also thankfully, lost. Clubs with the pedigree of Italy should not be playing for penalties, ever. Although it was boring to watch, it made sense when Greece did it because, well, Greece sucks and its the only way they and similar nations/clubs/etc stand a chance -- unless they're coached by Gus Hiddink.

Lastly, this two-host nation stuff has got to go. Now, I understand what its trying to accomplish, and I agree with its logic. Giving nations that normally wouldn't qualify a chance to compete, brings unaccustomed revenues, which then gets pumped back into the national team and system's infrastructure. But Switzerland and Austria, particularly the latter, had little business playing on the same pitch. Granted, Switzerland losing its talismanic captain Alexander Frei after just the first half of the first match is tragic and not their fault. But the only game the team won was against Portugal's JV team. And the same goes for Austria, who managed just a single point -- in a draw with Poland that was arguably more boring than the France-Romania snooze fest and Italy-Spain debacle.

Poland and Ukraine, if they ever get their stuff together in time, better put forth a better display in 2012. Otherwise I'm in favor of giving the previous year's victor the opportunity to host it. It makes sense because the nations that usually win it already have the stadium infrastructure in place, and four years notice is plenty of time. It will open up a spot to a team that normally qualifies 17th, rather than taking places away from the 15th and 16th qualified teams. Does anyone think Scotland or Bulgaria deserved their spot in the tourney over this year's hosts? I do. (And no, even if my system was to be applied retroactively England would still be home this summer. I don't think I need to explain myself on that one).

And there are other countless topic to discuss as well: how the hell Germany progressed as far as they did; poor little Croatia; Italy's despicable display against Spain; Holland flaming-out (again); Romania's disappointments; and why the penalty shoot-out is the #1 reason why soccer will never become big in America.

But I'm sure other, better sources have written about such topics.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

US Open Cup Third Round

I did withhold this information until after the Second Round, mainly because I wanted to keep the (illusionary) element of surprise. So, without much ado, here's the Third Round ties that are slated for Tuesday, July 1.

Oh, and remember when I complained that MLS teams weren't playing at their home parks, which probably adds to the neglect the competition witnesses? Well, half the MLS sides are playing their 'home' match at a different stadium than their own. New England are playing in New Britain, CT, and DC is in Gaithersburg, MD; I don't know if they're trying to spread the wealth or what...but it's quite mickey mouse.

New England Revolution vs. Richmond Kickers
Crystal Palace USA vs. New York Red Bulls
Chicago Fire vs. Cleveland City Stars
D.C. United vs. Rochester Rhinos
FC Dallas vs. Miami FC
Charleston Battery vs. Houston Dynamo
Carolina RailHawks vs. Kansas City Wizards
Seattle Sounders vs. Chivas USA

I hope to be in attendance of the NYRB-CPUSA match. Yet according to the Palace website it looks the match ALSO won't be at their home stadium, but a high school outside Annapolis. And tickets are an exorbitant $16. So we'll see if I can make it....

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

US Open Cup Second Round

If I was a conspiracy theorist, I would be quite skeptical of this year's Second Round.

One match was decided by a penalty shootout, two by last minute penalties, and one in extra time. And each victor, excluding the shootout, was a USL-1 side over their USL-2 little brothers. Oh, and lets not forget eight players and one coach were sent off. Yikes.

Below are the results, and a some brief highlights (home team in CAPS):

Richmond Kickers 2-1 WESTERN MASS PIONEERS
USL-2 foes played a scoreless first half that would give way two goals in just under the first twenty minutes of the second. Kicker Kevin Jones scored in the 59th minute, which was quickly answered by Pioneer Jeff Deren in the 63rd. Richmond's Stanley Nyazamba put the Kickers ahead for good in the 84th, but the real drama was the unraveling of sportsmanship immediately thereafter -- or the Referee going nuts. In just the 90th minute alone, Western Mass' Matt Glaeser and Frederico Molinari were booked for the second time, and Anthony Augustine given a straight red. Conversely, Kicker Evan Harding was booked, and Pat Viran was also shown a red card.

Another all-USL-2 tie, the highlight of this match was Palace coach Pete Medd being given a red card -- presumably for arguing. Harrisburg was given a penalty in the 120th mintue, and Yu Hoshide scored for the home side. Yet Crystal Palace would go on to trounce in penalties, winning 3-1.

ROCHESTER RAGING RHINOS 3-0 Pittsburgh Riverhounds
The USL-2 Riverhounds were no match for USL-1 Rochester. Menyongar, Salles, and Kreamalmeyer scored for Rochester.

MIAMI FC 1-0 Atlanta Silverbacks
Alex Alfonso's goal in the 40th was the only highlight of this tepid, rainy USL-1 affair. Although congrats to Miami for making it past the Second Round for the first time ever.

Cleveland City Stars 2-0 MINNESOTA THUNDER
The only upset in the Second Round, the USL-2 side Cleveland handily defeated Minnesota in Minnesota. Floyd Franks scored twice for the City Stars in extra time, who now face another Midwest foe, MLS' Chicago Fire.

SEATTLE SOUNDERS 6-0 Hollywood United F.C.
Cinderella's carriage definitely became a pumpkin last night when four goals from Sébastien Le Toux (two in the first half), saw Hollywood United's cup dreams end emphatically. Just five minutes into the match Zach Scott scored for Seattle. Josh Gardiner added another ten minutes later, and then Le Toux went on his scoring run, as at halftime it was 4-0 and curtains.

CAROLINA RAILHAWKS 1-0 Real Maryland Monarchs
A close knit affair saw Real Maryland succumb to the higher level RailHawks via a 90th minute penalty kick. An identical situation occurred just 287 miles south when...

CHARLESTON BATTERY 2-1 Charlotte Eagles
Another 90th minute pk saw a the lower tier club lose out to the home, upper tier side. I seeing a pattern here or what?

Nonetheless, only one USL-2 team upset a USL-1 side. Only three away teams won, and just three matches were won by two or more goals.

The Third Round is next week on July 1, as the MLS now get involved. Luckily Crystal Palace USA won, so I'll (hopefully) be in attendance as they take on NYRB.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Second Round Preview

One gripe, on a long list of many, about the US Open Cup is that the second round was announced weeks ago, and the third round is already announced. Honestly, is US Soccer so busy with the MNT in Barbados (yeah, right), the USWNT in the Peace Cup (what?), and the WNT U-20's also in World Cup Qualifying (sheesh), that they couldn't stage a lottery or drawing immediately after last week's action?

Knowing one's opponents weeks in advance takes all the drama, allure, and mystery from Cup competitions. Would the FA Cup this past year have been less impressive if Barnsley knew they had to play Chelsea after Liverpool? Yes, because being paired with the Blues immediately after dispatching the Reds was a cruel fate. But the Tykes overcame it in historic fashion.

And what made their run even more special, and dramatic considering they lost, was that they were then paired with fellow CCC side Cardiff City in the semifinal. Yet the Third Round of this competition pits every Second Round victor against an MLS team, which isn't surprising because the MLS always needs to prove its superiority and relevancy. How boring and disheartening is it for a USL-2 side that knows an upset over a USL-1 team is only going to be followed with a trip to say, DC United? Or that we all know its going to be an all MLS Quarter-, Semi- and Final?

Nonetheless, here's how the second round pairings pan out:

Harrisburg City Islanders vs. Crystal Palace Baltimore
Skyline Sports Complex, Harrisburg, PA - 7:05 PM

Western Mass Pioneers vs. Richmond Kickers
Lusitano Stadium, Ludlow, MA - 7:30 PM

Charleston Battery vs. Charlotte Eagles
Blackbaud Stadium, Charleston, SC - 7:30 PM

Carolina RailHawks vs. Real Maryland Monarchs
WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary, NC - 7:30 PM

Rochester Rhinos vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds
PAETEC Park, Rochester, NY - 7:30 PM

Miami FC vs. Atlanta Silverbacks
Tropical Park, Miami, FL - 8:00 PM

Minnesota Thunder vs. Cleveland City Stars
National Sports Center, Blaine, MN - 8:05 PM

Seattle Sounders vs. Hollywood United
Starfire Sports Complex, Tukwila, WA - 11:00 PM

Keep an eye out for the Seattle/Hollywood match, as a Seattle victory would add fuel to the (sadly) ending rivalry between Portland and Seattle. Also, five of the eight pairings are between USL-1 and USL-2 teams, so perhaps there will be some upsets this round. And I really want to complain that Crystal Palace USA isn't going to have a home game this entire Cup -- looks like I may have to go to Harrisburg to cover them. Yuck.

Monday, June 16, 2008

How did I forget this?

I don't normally like to toot my own horn, but how in the world did I forget to bring this up last month when the EPL season ended?

I'm usually incorrect with my predictions, but its great for the psyche when this turns out to be true:

But if Reading find themselves needing a victory at Derby on the season finale to survive, it’ll be déjà vu all over again. And I know I won’t be too surprised.

Well, we all know Reading needed more than a win. But I'll take this.

Rounding out the 1st Round

My apologies for the delay, but I was away most of the weekend. Nonetheless, postponed because of torrid weather, Friday night featured a match between USL-2 Real Maryland and USASA New York Pancyprian-Freedoms. Had Freedom Panagoitis Halkidis not been booked twice in a minute and NY been forced to 10 men, they very well may have won. But, fortune did not smile upon them as Real Maryland scored two late goals to win 3-2 AET.

Julio Cesar DoSantos began the scoring on the day, exploiting Maryland's defender Marcos Chantal mistake and putting NY up 1-0 in the 22nd. The tepid first half would remain in favor of NY, as the amateurs' hoped they too could be apart of a big upset.

Maryland responded however, when Muner Hasssan headed home a Dennis Alas free kick to tie the score at 1-1 in the 56th. NY responded in a timely fashion, when Matia Damiani was left all alone at the back post, and he slotted in a rebound from a free kick in the 69th.

The pendulum of providence suddenly swung against NY when Panagoitis Halkidis was booked in the 82nd and 83rd minute, reducing the squad to 10 men. Just two minutes later, Maryland's Nilson Perez scored from a Alas pass to tie the game. Although NY held on to send the match into extra time, and then almost to penalties, Marcos Chantal redeemed himself in the 117th minute by heading in a rebounded free kick that NY keeper Dilmer Martinez blocked but did not save.

And so the mighty tike's fell 3-2 after being so close to victory. Maryland's Alas, already involved with the two previous goals, had a role to play in the third and is undoubtedly the player of the match. Congrats to the Salvadorian.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

US Open Cup First Round

The first round surely wasn’t for the Cinderellas, as all but one lower tier club went out – and that includes all PDL clubs too. Additionally, eight of the fifteen matches were won by two goals or more.

There was a diamond in the rough though, as Hollywood United’s upset USL-1 side Portland Timbers 2-1 in Portland. And although not an upset, the PDL’s Austin Aztex U23 took USL-1 Atlanta Silverbacks all the way to penalties in a barnburner.

There is some video, and the Cup’s website had some great liveblogging, but wikipedia is still the best source. Nonetheless here are the highlights of the two aforementioned matches:

Portland’s PGE Park saw drama only cup competitions could provide. The scoring in the constantly swerving match began in the 32nd minute, when Timber Chris Brown slotted in a goal from a breakthrough. When Tim Karalexis committed a foul in the box, former Timber Matt Taylor nailed it just before halftime, equalizing the affair at one-all.

Just seven minutes into the second half, Arsene Oka received a cross from Neil Dombrowski and put the Timbers up 2-1. United Defender LJ Reinhaldt committed a foul in the box just moments later, yet Takayuki Suzuki’s effort was saved by United keeper Javier Bbarragan. Adding insult to injury, Oka’s follow up rebound was hit wide right. Ouch.

What little momentum remained in the Timbers camp evaporated when Matt Taylor was, again, called upon to score from the penalty spot. Which he did, again.

Then, at the death of the already remarkable match, former Derby County youth player Earl Alexander scored for Hollywood United. 3-2 to the boys from SoCal, and onto the second round they go.

Meanwhile, at Dragon Park in Round Rock, TX (where Dell is located) Atlanta and Austin Aztex U23 played that match that saw four goals scored, eight bookings, one red card, and a perfect 5-for-5 penalty shootout.

The scoring didn’t begin until stoppage time of the first half when Real Salt Lake draft bust Jamie Watson scored for Austin. Being given a PK, Atlanta’s David Hayes missed his opportunity. Yet fortunately, Mac Kandji equalized in the 81st minute thereby sending the game to extra time.

And from there it got crazy. In the 99th, Atlanta’s Chris Mahaffery was issued a straight red for “stepping on the keeper.” In the 101st Austin’s Willy Guadarrama scored to put the Aztex' up 2-1. In the 105th Austin’s Jorge Vega was booked. In the 113th David Hayes then sliced through Austin’s defense to be one-on-one with the goalie. Yet Hayes was taken down by keeper Miguel Gallardo (who was subsequently booked) and given another penalty – which he scored. Finishing the booking fiesta was Carlos Vicens, who was given a yellow in the 116th.

Atlanta then went five for five the penalty shootout. Beto Papendrea was the goat for the Aztex’, as his miss was the difference in the match.

Below are the results of the first round. The Real Maryland/New York game was postponed to Friday evening because it was thunder-storming like crazy here.

Carolina RailHawks (USL-1) 1-0 Brooklyn Knights (PDL)
Richmond Kickers (USL-2) 3-0 Fredericksburg Gunners (PDL)

Western Mass Pioneers (USL-2) 2-0 Boston Olympiakos (USASA)

AAC Eagles (USASA) 0-4 Pittsburgh Riverhounds (USL-2)
Michigan Bucks (PDL) 1-2 Cleveland City Stars (USL-1)
Minnesota Thunder (USL-1) 4-1 St. Louis Lions (USL-1)
Rochester Rhinos (USL-1) 2-1 RWB Adria (USASA)
Austin Aztex U23 (PDL) 2-2 (4-5) Atlanta Silverbacks (USL-1)

Charleston Battery (USL-1) 3-0 ASC New Stars (USASA)

Charlotte Eagles (USL-2) 5-2 Clearwater Galactics (USASA)

Miami FC (USL-1) 4-2 Brandenton Academics (PDL)

Arizona Sahuaros (USASA) 0-1 Seattle Sounders (USL-1)

Harrisburg City Islanders (USL-2) 5-1 Yakima Reds (PDL)
Los Angeles Legends (PDL) 1-2 Crystal Palace USA (USL-2)

Portland Timbers (USL-1) 1-2 Hollywood United (USASA)

Oh yeah, there was also an MLS game too. Chicago Fire beat the Crew 3-2. So congrats to the Fire.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Better Know a Soccer Club

Stephen Colbert has his "Better Know a District" gimmick. Well, I'm starting my "Better Know a Soccer Club" in the run-up to the First Round of the Open Cup. Unfortunately I don't have a contract like he does nor the ability to use the segments as filler. Instead the cup is a timely event that begins tomorrow. So here's a quick glance at the USASA and NPSL, i.e. the lowest tiers, clubs participating.

RWB Adria
Hometown: Chicago, IL
A Region II club of the USASA, Red White and Blue Adria has strong Croatian affiliations as they regularly plays in the Croatian-North American Soccer Tournament. They've also arguably won the most trophies in the state of Illinois.

New York Pancyprian Freedoms
Hometown: Queens, New York City
The Region I Freedoms have, or attempted to, qualify for every US Open Cup since its inception. They're also the last repeat victors, accomplishing the feat in 1982 and '83.

Clearwater International F.C. Galactics
Hometown: Clearwater, FL
Region III and Florida Suncoast Soccer League (FSSL) champions, Clearwater is a non-profit club with loads of teams. Yet their real interesting facets lie in their website. Seriously: underlines, highlights, and bold markings? Yikes.

ASC New Stars
Hometown: Houston, TX
Aria Soccer Club was founded in 1974 by Iranians Reza and Taher Khalili. The New Stars is their top team, comprised of players under the age of twenty-five. They're the Houston and Texas State Champions, and with the exception of a 4-4 draw with Greenwood Wanderers in qualification, they won their group handily.

AAC Eagles
Hometown: Chicago, IL
Another ChiTown club affiliated with an Eastern European nation, the Eagles have roots in Poland. Although they have an impressive track record, its hard to get any information or history from their website.

Boston Olympiakos
Hometown: Boston, MA
Founded as Boston United in 1990, the club changed the name to its current state in 1996. Although they've done quite well in the Open Division of the Massachusetts State Soccer League (winning 5 titles) and the Amateur Cup Finals (winning it last year), this is the first time they've ever been in the Open Cup.

Arizona Sahuaros
Hometown: Phoenix, AZ
The nomadic Sahuaros have a history of changing names and leagues, but find themselves participating in the NPSL's Southwest Conference for 2008. Additionally, the qualification for the US Open Cup occurred in the club's first four matches of the season. Yet the team has nine players from their last appearance in 2006, so its no surprise they're in it again. They're also the only NPSL club in the tournament.

Hollywood United
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Although I hate LA, Hollywood, and everything to do with SoCal, this club has a great history. Back in the 80s British ex-pats like Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols and Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard, among others, used to frequent this one pub and decided to form a team. The club has transformed from an actual pub team into an amalgamation of competitive players, and b-list movie stars and musicians -- Anthony LaPaglia is the club's chairman -- but hey, what else did you expect?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

US Open Cup 3rd Round Play-In

The first round doesn't start until next Tuesday, but last night the MLS had a play-in match for the third round. And go figure it was on a FIFA International Date.

Alas the Kansas City Wizards took on the Colorado Rapids at Shawnee Mission North High School, in Overland Park, KS. Yep, that's right, reason #5 why no one knows/cares about the US Open Cup: the games occur at high school fields. Yikes.

Anyways, the Wizards and Rapids engaged in a heave-ho match, with KC managing to win the ensuing penalty shootout 5-3. Of course, there aren't any video highlights or even photos of the match, but below is a quick rundown of the game's proceedings.

With both sides fielding practically full-strength sqauds, KC's Ryan Pore opened the scoring in the 20th minute. Yet just sixteen minutes later, Rapids' Herculez Gomez tied it up at 1 all. (On a side note, but Gomez doesn't get a call up for the USMNT is vexing -- he has to be better than Wolff and Clark).

Nine minutes into the second half, the Rapids would go up 2-1 thanks to striker's Jacob Peterson's header. Star Wizard striker Ivan Trujillo slotted home the equalizer in the 86th minute, but midfielder Davy Arnuad's second booking put the Wiz down to 10 men.

Although each side 'won' each half, the score was still tied at 2-2 after both periods of extra time. Both clubs would score the first three penalty's, but Rapids' Facundo Erpin hit the cross bar. Wizard Kurt Morsink stepped up, scored the penalty, and sent the Wizard's to the Third Round proper.

Stats from Cup's website:

Scoring Summary
20 (KC) Ryan Pore (Unassisted)
36 (COL) Herculez Gomez (Ciaran O’Brien)
57 (COL) Jacob Peterson (Mehdi Ballouchy)
86 (KC) Ivan Trujillo (Claudio Lopez)

PK Summary
KC - Jewsbury (Goal, 1-0)
COL - Gomez (Goal, 1-1)
KC - Lopez (Goal, 2-1)
COL - Ballouchy (Goal, 2-2)
KC - Trujillio (Goal, 3-2)
COL - Grazier (Goal, 3-3)
KC - Conrad (Goal, 4-3)
COL - Erpen (Miss - Crossbar, 4-3)
KC - Morsink (Goal, 5-3)

The next MLS match also coincides with the First Round (Tuesday, June 10 -- also the day Spain play Russia, and Sweden versus Greece), as the Chicago Fire host the Columbus Crew. That game will occur at Bradley University's Shea Stadium in Peoria, IL, which is -- albeit slightly -- a step up from a high school.